Five years ago, in a new ward, our tiny son took immediately to a man on the front row of the gospel principles class–a wide-armed, rugby player of a man who shook our hand and nearly lifted us off the ground. He was big and bright and new. Baptized just a few months before, though schooled in Mormonism for many years. There was something about Jack’s sincerity and insistence in speaking often about social justice that endeared us to him without reservation.
A couple of years ago Jack started to bring his friend, Vince, to church. Every Sunday Vince wears a black shirt and pants nearly as dark as his skin. The grandchildren that hold his hands as he walks into sacrament meeting run to hug Jack. Another family has saved them a spot on the bench with them. Vince doesn’t often speak out, but it is clear that he is both gentle and wise with experience as he accepts these offerings with grace.
At Vince’s baptism he spoke about his time in prison and how at a low point he knew he wanted to find God, his sweet family peppering the baptismal room chairs calling out “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!”
A few Sunday’s ago, Vince, who has started a prison ministry program in our ward along with Jack , stood near us in the parking lot holding a letter that arrived in his mailbox the day before. He is often so quiet in church, but that muggy afternoon as we held our church bags ready to get into our cars, he gave an unintentional sermon about caring for the forgotten, about how he was once the forgotten wondering if the world would simply pass him by without another thought. He said he’d read that letter from a cousin still in prison and realized just how easy it is to forget, or better yet, not even think of the people we cannot see or hear.
Vince’s speech did not contain any of the familiar language of the mormon commitment pattern, or even a final crescendo of pathos to move me to action, he just simply ended, crying a little with the letter firmly in his hands. My children hungry and yelling in their carseats, me wiping unexpected tears from my cheeks, and all I could think to say was, “Vince, will you find me some names of women I can write?”
I have not seen Vince for a few weeks, but tonight Jack sent me two names of women who have requested correspondence from prison. In the message Jack gave the two names and said simply, “We don’t know anything about them. Your letters are expected though.”
The gospel of Christ a place where we know so little, except the fact that there are people, both seen and unseen, who are expecting us to find them and offer what we can, and in turn, will warm us when we are cold. I am also the one in need of finding, sometimes if even from my own selfishness or ease.
I don’t know what I will write these women, it’s likely they are far more brave and strong than me, but to be counted on for a few words in a lonely time, that I can do. It’s been given me countless times by people like Jack, my mother, Vince, my home teacher, my visiting teachers, so many people who did not have to give, but did anyway.
I have two names tonight, I will take a step toward them in the form of a letter. It is so small a gesture, but if you are reading this, I want to encourage you to also take a small step toward someone who is forgotten, or at least believes that they are.
And whatever else is wrong in religion, in policy, in pride and myopic antics, there is this: We don’t know anything about them. Your letters are expected though.